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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

“Son of Heaven” by David Wingrove (Reviewed by James Dunn)

Order “Son of HeavenHERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: David Wingrove is the Hugo Award-winning co-author of Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction (w/Brian Aldiss). He is also the co-author of the first three MYST books—novelizations of one of the world’s bestselling computer games. He lives in north London with his wife and four daughters.

OFFICIAL PLOT SYNOPSIS: The year is 2065, two decades after the great economic collapse that destroyed Western civilization. With its power broken and its cities ruined, life in the West continues in scattered communities. In rural Dorset, Jake Reed lives with his 14-year-old son and memories of the great collapse. Back in ’43, Jake was a rich young futures broker, immersed in the datscape of the world’s financial markets. He saw what was coming—and who was behind it. Forewarned, he was one of the few to escape the fall.

For 22 years he has lived in fear of the future, and finally it is coming—quite literally—across the plain towards him. Chinese airships are in the skies and a strange, glacial structure has begun to dominate the horizon. Jake finds himself forcibly incorporated into the ever-expanding `World of Levels`, a global city of some 34 billion souls, where social status is reflected by how far you live above the ground.

Here, under the rule of the mighty Tsao Ch’un, a resurgent China is seeking to abolish the past and bring about world peace through rigidly enforced order. But a civil war looms, and Jake will find himself at the heart of the struggle for the future...

CLASSIFICATION: Strongly science-fiction. Son of Heaven echoes the great Isaac Asimov in using his genre to draw attention to developing, and potentially alarming, trends within society.

FORMAT/INFO: Son of Heaven, in its Corvus hardback edition, stretches to 367 pages across eleven chapters. Written in the third person, the story follows the struggles of Jake Reed and his community as they are faced with the coming of a vengeful China. The Chung Kuo series was originally published between 1989 – 1999 and Son of Heaven was planned as a prequel novel. A necessity to the rest of the series.

Son of Heaven was published in the UK on March 1, 2011 via Corvus. A paperback edition will be released on November 1, 2011, the same day that Daylight on Iron Mountain—volume two of the Chung Kuo series—will be published. The cover for Son of Heaven includes artwork by Larry Rostant.

ANALYIS: I’m going to have to put this out there straight away: Son of Heaven is a great book. This is my first review for the site, so that could come across as a bit strong. I should point out that I am normally quite reserved with my praise. Son of Heaven though, the first book of the Chung Kuo series, is a brilliant blend of skilful prose, characterization and philosophical musings.

The original Chung Kuo series was launched in 1989 as a smaller series of books, with David Wingrove reportedly being forced to finish the series in a hurry. He wasn’t happy with the ending, and a prequel had to be abandoned. I have never read the old books, but I cannot wait to read the newly printed series. Anyway, enough hyping up the book and onto the actual review.

The first section of the book focuses on Jake Reed, roughly twenty years after the fall of Western society, and the everyday struggle both he and his close-knit community endure to survive. Civilization had become so reliant upon technology that, when the attack came on their markets, life itself reverted to an almost pre-industrial society. Britain has again become a series of individual states, the old kingdom of Wessex revived after 1000 years. Communication between the old superpowers is impossible, and relations between even local villages almost as hard to maintain in a land rife with bandits, disease and suspicion of outsiders. The warning is clear—the human desire to dominate is stronger than technological unity and could still destroy our supposedly advanced societies. The rest of the book looks at Jake’s life before the attack came, as a man central to the advancement of technology, and his eventual capture as the Chinese sweep across Britain.

The message of the book looks to be initially grim. However, it is for precisely that reason that I think Son of Heaven is such an incredible book. Wingrove has taken topics that could be quite provocative. Outwardly blaming the Chinese for the destruction of Western society as a whole in a series of well-coordinated strikes (the assassination of the American President, agents collapsing world-wide markets, spreading murder, chaos and suspicion) would normally be viewed as too provocative. But the Chinese, through Jiang Lei, are a symbol of everything humanity can and do represent. A man forced to do a duty he resents, trying to make the best of a bad lot, and primarily a humanitarian. David Wingrove manages a message almost as strong, if not stronger, than T.S. Eliot. The Wasteland salvages an almost international cultural unity from the midst of the devastation of the First World War. In Son of Heaven, every civilisation has collapsed and yet humanity can still be united by a shared desire to learn and love.

I’ve already mentioned that the writing style is extremely strong. I think the only way that I can demonstrate that in a review is to look at Jake Reed. Well, any of the characters really. A couple of years back, my favourite author of all time died. This post on Fantasy Book Critic is an obituary for David Eddings and the author rightly mentions Eddings’ almost unmatched ability to bring a character to life. I haven’t found many authors who can do the same. James Barclay and Joe Abercrombie are new authors who have that talent, which could be why they are such big sellers. David Wingrove has the same talent. I constantly felt like I could sympathise with Jake, through any worries or hard-won triumphs.

Son of Heaven is a must read. The story line is superb, and a potentially hazardous storyline is qualified by a fantastic depth of emotion between the characters. Most importantly, the book has a message—do not become over-reliant on technology. The riot scenes strike a peculiarly pertinent chord with readers. I can’t wait for the next instalment.


James Dunn is disgustingly passionate about books. Alongside studying English Literature—with a particular interest for medieval literature—James works for a national book chain, is getting as much possible experience with publishers, and is completely obsessed by fantasy literature. He is an armchair sports fanatic who lives in Cardiff, Great Britain.

James’ main interests are fantasy and science-fiction, paying close attention to new high fantasy novels. Historical fiction is another favourite of his, as well as the history of the Church.

His favourite authors include Raymond E. Feist, James Barclay, Robert Jordan, Joe Abercrombie, Tolkien, Scott Lynch, Bernard Cornwall and James Aitcheson. James is unequivocal in his belief that David Eddings is the one of the best writers of all time.

Alongside his studies and job, James writes regular posts for Fight Apathy, Or Don’t, a number of politics blogs and is worryingly addicted to Xbox RPG’s.

NOTE: James Dunn is the newest member of Fantasy Book Critic. We’re very excited to have him onboard and hope you’’ll give him a warm welcome...


M said...

Hi James

Nice review & welcome to the FBC team buddy :)


Nayan said...

Hi James...I have been following FBC quite regularly and have discovered some great books thanks to the reviewers here. Looking forward to more reviews from you. BTW, your first review definitely does not sound like one (saying it in a positive sense).

Mike said...

Just started Son of Heaven this week. It had been on my shelf since release and passed it up. Always wanted to read the Chung Kuo series, and this review pushed me to start.

I agree so that Jake is a character I've become quite attached too. I'm about to start the second part of the story today. :)

James said...

Hi guys,

Thanks for the feedback - I was quite worried it was just going to be rubbish. Hopefully I can keep impressing. And Mike - brilliant that it gave you the push to read it. I can't wait for the rest of the series.


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